WARNING: Being an Attorney May be Hazardous to Your (Mental) Health – Part II

Attorneys tend to far more depressed, anxious, unhappy, and even suicidal than most other professions.  In Part I of this series, I listed some of the gruesome mental health statistics for attorneys, as well as the possible explanations.  Now that we know the problem, though, what can we do about it?

Issue Spotting

Maybe you haven’t used the term since law school, but we attorneys issue spot daily.  We just don’t normally spot them in ourselves or our colleagues.  One of the most important parts of addressing stress, anxiety, or depression, though, is to know what we are looking for.  The following are characteristics you might see in yourself or  your colleagues:

Depression

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping – too much or too little
  • Irritability/Anger
  • Lack of energy
  • Hopelessness/pessimism
  • Over- or under-eating
  • Persistent sad, empty, or anxious feelings
  • Feelings of excessive guilt, helplessness, or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide

Anxiety

  • Feelings of panic, worry, or excessive fear
  • Shortness of breath, heart palpitations
  • Worried thoughts seem to sprout more worried thoughts
  • Intrusive memories of traumatic experiences (might even feel like it’s happening in the present)
  • Insomnia
  • Ritualistic behaviors (e.g., aligning objects, repeated hand washing, etc.)
  • Dizziness
  • Sense of impending catastrophe
  • Tense muscles

Suicidality (1)

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities – seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life

It may be difficult to imagine any of your colleagues struggling with these symptoms, but the statistics on attorney depression, anxiety, and suicide indicate that these are all too prevalent.  Take a moment to consider whether these symptoms might apply to you or those you know.

Getting Help

Despite the fact that attorneys are much more likely to suffer from these symptoms than the general population, we also are less likely to seek help (2).  Whatever the reason for this, it is a terrible mistake.  Research shows that depression and anxiety are highly treatable.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be very effective for treating both the symptoms and possible contributing factors for depression and anxiety.  Stress or depressed mood may be related to your current case, relationship problems, major life changes, etc.  They may also be due to an imbalance of neurotransmitters.  Unprocessed traumatic experiences in your past may also be triggered by present life events, bringing back those same feelings to your everyday life.  Exploring these issues with a trained therapist can bring insight, control, and healing.

Medication

There are numerous effective medications available to treat depression and anxiety, possibly offering relief in a matter of hours (3) or even minutes (4).  Although many of the medications available may provide relief only while the medication is in the system, when medication use is combined with therapy, longer lasting change may result.

Support Networks

The importance of friends and family cannot be overstated.  Having people with whom you can cry, confide, and talk about your highs and lows are vitally important.  Because we tend to work so many hours and leave work as soon as our work is done, so many of us are socially isolated.  Our families do not have much time with us, we don’t have time to develop friendships outside of work, and we do not have extra time to spend gabbing with coworkers at the water cooler (unless it’s billable, of course).   It is really the first move in a friendship that is the hardest, so make the time to ask a coworker to grab a bite to eat after work or grab a quick coffee to make your friendship a little deeper.  The benefits go both ways, and you might just be saving a life without knowing it.

Mindfulness

Studies have shown that having a personal mindfulness practice, such as meditation, prayer, etc., can do wonders for managing and even overcoming anxiety and depression (5).  You can find some guided meditations directed specifically at lawyers here.

Resources

There are many resources available to find out more about depression and anxiety for lawyers and how to treat it.  Here are a few to check out:

California Lawyers Assistance Program: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/MemberServices/LawyerAssistanceProgram.aspx

ABA Law Student Toolkit: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/lsd/mentalhealth/toolkit.authcheckdam.pdf

Great blog on attorney depression: http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/

My former post on finding fulfillment.

mindfulness technique for handling difficult emotions.

Some great resources on natural medicine and nutrition: http://www.naturalstresscare.org/

Psychology Today’s therapist directory: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/?utm_source=www&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=topnav_find_therapist

Rose Rigole is an attorney and a psychotherapist in private practice in Costa Mesa and Los Angeles, California.  She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached by telephone at (424) 571-2273, by email at rose@counselingsocal.com, or via her website at http://www.counselingsocal.com.

(1)  Quoted from http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/suicide.html

(2) http://webster.utahbar.org/barjournal/2008/01/why_are_so_many_lawyers_depres.html

(3) http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/06/23/some-antidepressants-work-fast-for-anxiety/14905.html

(4) http://www.helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_medication_drugs_treatment.htm

(5) http://lawfirmsuccess.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/lawyers-who-meditate-have-larger-brains-lower-depression/

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